The Merchant of Venice Study Guide

The Merchant of Venice Study Guide

Original title:
The Merchant of Venice

Merchant of Venice by William Shakespeare is often classified as a romantic comedy, but it can’t clearly be defined as comedy due to its piercing dramatic scenes, especially with the character of the Jewish moneylender Shylock and Portia’s fiery speech about mercy.

The other deep topics that are mentioned in the play are the value of friendship (the male friendship bordering with bromance is another common theme of several plays of Shakespeare, developed even more in the “Two Gentlemen of Verona”). Antonio is ready to help his friend Bassanio to marry rich and beautiful Portia even putting his life at risk, entering the suicidal deal with Shylock, who he despises. The racism and antisemitism that was a great deal in Venice is also mentioned in the play. Despite Shylock is portrayed as the comical Jew, who values his income more than his own daughter and is punished in the end, he is indeed a deep character with his own agenda. His wish to have a pound of Antonio’s flesh as his interest for lending his friend a huge sum of money is a result of Antonio’s notorious attitude to the Jews. Later, Portia in disguise of Balthasar, the young lawyer, reminds Shylock that he may have the pound of flesh of his debtor, but flesh only - a Jew isn’t allowed to shed a drop of blood of a Venetian non-Jew, otherwise he will be executed and all his property confiscated.

The third theme that is prominent and usual for the Shakespearean comedies is cross-dressing and the second identity of the women involved. Portia, a rich heiress surrounded by suitors isn’t only pretty - she and her maid and friend Nerissa can successfully disguise as lawyers and defend Antonio in the court both passionately and intelligently. Portia, as usually in the comedies of Shakespeare is shown as a woman ready to solve male problems and get her beloved and his close ones out of troubles. Despite it is portrayed as a comedic trait that defies the “natural” laws of society of Shakespearean times, the presence of the strong heroines is another feature of this play.

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